It was the Roaring Twenties and at Oregon Agricultural College (OAC), Physics Professor Jacob Jordan (photo) brought the campus to life. By turning a lab experiment into OAC’s first 50-watt transmitter, Jordan invited sound to Oregon’s airwaves.
And while that sound will not be disappearing, the campus-based broadcasting station will come to an end when Oregon Public Broadcasting’s KOAC-AM radio station moves its operations to Portland in Spring 2009.
“I never wanted to be the one to close KOAC,” said Vice President of Radio Programming, Lynne Clendenin. “But it falls on me.”
As KOAC updated its equipment, Covell Hall, home to KOAC since 1928, could not keep up.
“Basically, we’re trying to support 21st century equipment with 20th century facilities. Updating the facilities just would not be cost effective.”
Clendenin said she and the station’s chief engineer examined the costs of installing air conditioning, along with associated costs, but it was just too expensive.
For eighty years, KOAC has broadcast from Covell Hall and spread its coverage throughout Oregon and beyond. In the early years, topics included agriculture reports, music, faculty lectures, home economics programs, state fair news, athletics, and talks on a variety of subjects ranging from chemistry to history to house heating. It was a time when families listened eagerly by their radio for scheduled broadcasts. In 1936, the Oregon State College Forestry Club began broadcasting a weekly program “of fun and music from the woods” by the Foresters Chorus, just to name one of the few surviving audio samples in OSU Archives.
The station survived the depression, when it was only one of two educational stations west of the Rockies to overcome the economic crisis. By 1950, KOAC had studios in five locations: Corvallis, Eugene, Monmouth, Salem and Portland. When TV came on the scene in Corvallis in 1957 and later in Portland, radio continued to thrive. In 1979, KOAC became a member of National Public Radio and in 1981, the Oregon State System of Higher Education divested its radio and television stations, including KOAC, and Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) was formed.
Clendenin began her career at KOAC 20 years ago as a part-time announcer while she finished her broadcast media degree at OSU. She was a fan of OPB, listened whenever she could and when she learned KOAC was located on OSU’s campus she quickly applied.
“I was shocked when I learned that OPB was (on OSU’s campus),” Clendenin said, “and thrilled.” “Over the years everyone at OSU has been supportive and welcoming. It is hard to leave.”
“It’s important for listeners to know we’re not going off the air,” said Clendenin. “We’re just moving operations. You will still hear the KOAC call letters at the top of every hour! You will still get KOAC and OPB’s other fine services.”
From its meager beginnings on December 7, 1922 when radio station KFDJ was granted its first broadcast license, to changing its call letters to reflect its connection to Oregon Agriculture College in December 1925, KOAC called campus home. And, while the station’s operations move to Portland, the KOAC transmitter in Corvallis stays. For radio listeners, OPB programming will continue at 550 AM, KOAC’s spot on the dial.
A preservation effort has sprung up on campus in order to leave a lasting legacy of the radio station and its birth at OSU. There is a loosely connected group of OSU faculty and staff who are working with OPB in saving some of the artifacts and recordings from the early days of the station. Some will be placed on display for the public. If you have contributions, please contact Larry Pribyl, x7-3817, email@example.com or Lynne Clendenin, x7-5332, or 541-602-3005, firstname.lastname@example.org.
~ by Jeanne Silsby
Two other audio recordings from the 1930-1939 timeframe, in addition to Alouette noted above, are Cruiser’s Song and George W – The Dean. “George W – The Dean” is a song about the longtime dean of forestry and president of OSU, George Peavy. All are sung by Forester’s Chorus; recorded at KOAC Radio Station by J.M. Morris; Theme for Forester’s in Action. All are courtesy of OSU Archives.